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Celebration: Jewish Community Photographs

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Photographer D-Mo Zajac in front of her work, March 2016

Photographer D-Mo Zajac in front of her work, March , 2016, Photograph by Joy Lai

“The challenge of telling an entire story in one frame” is part of what drives photographer D-Mo Zajac. A display of her work Celebration: Jewish Community Photographs is on at the Library from 1 March until 5th June 2016,  taking us  into the lives of a Sydney community  revealing glimpses of  religious and cultural events .  

As part of  Multicultural March celebrations the Library held a talk  with the photographer , D-Mo Zajac, curator, Anni Turnbull and Rabbi’s Gorarier and Slavin who feature in the Libraries  display.

The discussion covered D-Mo Zajac’s photography and the Jewish community. D-Mo revealed her professional and personal interested in tradition and ritual in Jewish culture.

 “It was around Hanukkah time in 2010 that I went to take my first photograph of the Jewish community in Double Bay. I remember meeting Rabbi Dovid Slavin that evening. He kindly invited me to join his beautiful family to celebrate the ‘Festival of light’ at their house. From that moment I began my five year journey documenting the Jewish community here in Australia.” 

D-Mo Zajac is a Polish born, Sydney based photographer who moved to Australia in 2006.  She credits her fascination for other cultures starting around the age of six or seven when her father had a visit from a friend in the Dominican Republic.  The sight of a black man in a small Polish village was unusual. She remembers cycling with her sister and Uncle John to the local baker and the amazement of other villagers.

In Poland D-Mo Zajac studied film and photography working as First Assistant Director for five years on documentaries for German and Polish television.  She came to Australia at the invitation of her twin sister.   

She says “despite a successful film and television background in Europe I couldn’t find steady work as a film maker in Australia and converted to still photography.  What a blessing!  This was the beginning of my passion for photography. I began to love the challenge of telling an entire story in one frame.”

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Photographer D-Mo Zajac in conversation with Rabbi's Gourarie and Slavin, 10th March 2016, photograph by Joy Lai

Photographer D-Mo Zajac in conversation with Rabbi's Gourarie and Slavin, 10th March 2016, photograph by Joy Lai

D-Mo Zajak has documented a variety of cultures,  migrants and refugees. In 2009 Zajac started asking 'who am I and what is my purpose?' It was then she discovered her own Jewish heritage, after being raised in Poland as a Protestant, her mother  revealed  to her  that her grandmother had been  Jewish.

Covering her first Jewish community event, Hanukkah at Steyne Park,  in 2010 had a more profound impact on Zajac. It was at this time she first met Rabbi Slavin.

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Jewish celebration

Rabbi Slavin talks about Our Big Kitchen (OBK)  a community run kitchen he started in the basement of the Sydney Yeshiva Centre in Bondi. With support from volunteers, meals are prepared and distributed to the homeless, to victims of domestic abuse and to people in crisis and families in need.

“Opened in 2007 the food in the kitchen is an excuse or a language or a medium, no different than sport or music or photography, art or cinema. Food is the medium we use but the actual product is rebuilding people’s confidence. It is community building allowing people to behave a sense of belonging. Whether that is mothers with post natal depression or the elderly or people who are socially isolated. It’s a place where it’s easy to come to and where people immediately feel needed.

Another program that rabbi Slavin started was to give inmates an opportunity to rehabilitate. " After serving time for the community there is a simple choice. Either community gives the inmates a second chance or the criminals will.  We have had an incredible success rate with the inmates, some have moved on and some are with us now.  We invited Mike Tyson to talk to them about some of the mistakes he’d’ made. We get inmates to talk to children at risk. Gaol may sound glamorous from the outside but it’s one for the last places you want to go. One of the things we have done is to bring judges who have sentenced these people to talk over a cup of coffee. You can almost see the years of stress peeled away as they talk, they are just individuals. They can talk about the case. It is about turning society on its head.”

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From left - Honourable Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO, the former and second longest serving Governor of New South Wales, Rebbitzen Penninah Feldman, Rabbi Dovid Slaven , former Sri Lanken Consul general PD Ernando –Consul of Sri Lanka , based in Sydney.

From left - Honourable Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO, the former and second longest serving Governor of New South Wales, Rebbitzen Penninah Feldman, Rabbi Dovid Slaven , former Sri Lanken Consul general PD Ernando –Consul of Sri Lanka , based in Sydney. 

You can listen to the talk below, and read the transcript 

Photographer D-Mo Zajac in conversation with Rabbi's Gourarie and Slavin, 10th March 2016, photograph by Joy Lai
Anni Turnbull convenes discussion with D-Mo Zajac, Rabbi's Slavin and Gourari for Multicultural March 2016